The little outcast


Adult Callochromis macrops (female). Photo courtesy of the author.
I’m not really one to get attached to my fish, like I do my dogs. I don’t name my cichlids nor do I tend to have favorites among them. Don’t get me wrong, though. I HATE to lose a fish for any reason…due to my fault or anything else, and it upsets me when I do.  In fact, I’m highly self-reflective, always asking myself how I might have contributed to every fish’s death.

With all of that said, I have to admit I do have one particular little cichlid that I often feel sorry for.  She’s a Callochromis macrops, and I posted about her earlier this year. Why do I feel sorry for her? Let’s back up for just a minute and talk about emotion in fish. Back in July, I posted about ethics in fishkeeping. I mentioned that fish are quite sentient. But do they have “feelings”? The human species is notorious for anthropomorphizing, and I am guilty myself, though I work hard not to. In any case, I often feel sorry for my macrops because I wonder if she is sad.

As I mentioned in the post about her, she resides in a 75g Tanganyikan cichlid community tank with many other species. The tank occupants are pretty heterogenous, not just in species but also in gender and size. She is neither the smallest nor the largest. The smallest honor goes to my single Telmatochromis vittatus at about 3″. The largest are either my male Neolamprologus tretocephalus or the “three stooges” – my three male Altolamprologus calvus ‘black’ – all four of which are 5″ plus. Miss macrops is about 3.5″. In temperament, she is easily the most docile and laid back cichlid in the tank, a fact that I think works against her.

Sadly, she is pretty much the one cichlid in the tank that seemingly can not find a safe spot to be in for any length of time. If my breeding pair of Telmatochromis temporalis aren’t chasing her off from their end of the tank, my dominant male Neolamprolous leleupi takes out his frustration on her whenever she gets near him. To make matters worse, it seems that everyone else has concluded that she’s also a good target whenever she’s in the vicinity at feeding time. She’s often scrambling to pick up just a small bit of food wherever she finds it. To her credit though, she just seems to roll with the punches. She’s always on the go and does her best to blend in, using her large forked caudal fin to dart away when targeted. She’s not particularly pretty, sporting a uniform champagne color, a mouth with a slight overbite, and eyes so proportionally large that she appears almost deformed.

​Maybe all of the above paints the picture of an underdog. Doesn’t everyone pull for the underdog? I do.

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